Tag Archives: poetry

June 2017 Wrapup: Part II

21 Jul

[Note: I apologize for how terribly late these post are! I have had a hectic month and am working hard to catch up. July Part I should be up very soon!]

The second half of June was a lot like the first: many thrillers and fast reads. I was traveling quite a bit in June and needed easy books I could dip in and out of without being confused. It actually ended up being a decent reading month with 19 books in total. Far from my best, but also far from my worst!

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Concomitance, by Monica McClure. Finished June 15th. This short but impactful poetry collection tells the story of what it is to be a woman in a commercial society. Each poem features a different event in the author’s life, but it is told through the lens of what beauty products and clothing brands she wore during that time. This is probably something most women in America can identify with: I think we can all instantly think of “that Valentine’s day I wore the purple MAC lipstick” or “my super cute Forever 21 top that I always wear to amusement parks.”

It is, of course, a symptom of capitalism and the appearance-based culture most women are a part of, willingly or not. While this is on the surface an almost superficial look at the author’s life, it’s also a pretty biting commentary on modern society. It’s dry and self-deprecating, simply written but with many moving lines. If you like poetry and feminist critiques I would definitely give this a shot.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Final Girls, by Mira Grant*. Finished June 16th. I would consider myself a low-key fan of Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire. I have enjoyed everything of hers that I’ve read, even if some have been far more successful than others. They still always end up being fun horror romps, especially when she writes as Mira Grant.

Final Girls is no different. This novella is about a near-future where virtual reality technology has been harnessed to help people overcome trauma. People are put into a totally immersive horror-movie-esque experience that will either help them get past their history or bond with a person they are estranged from. Our main girl, Esther, is a journalist who doubts both the effectiveness and the ethics of this treatment. During her tour of the facility, she’s offered a little horror movie experience of her own, and is joined by the project’s mastermind, Dr. Jennifer Webb.

The majority of this story is about Esther and Jennifer in the VR machine, bonding in a cheesy teenage horror movie. It’s cute and very meta, with all those tropes we all love to hate on full display. But of course things don’t go as expected: just look at that cover. The turns it took weren’t totally unexpected, but this was a total blast of a read. I almost wish I’d saved it for Halloween, this would be such a good cold-weather spooky read.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Marsh King’s Daughter, by Karen Dionne. Finished June 17th. I have bad luck with popular thrillers, especially when I read hyped ones right at release. And while I got hit by the “why am I reading this” blues later in the month, The Marsh King’s Daughter actually lived up to the hype (mostly). I do think the comparisons to Room are very misleading: aside from having one thing in common (a child born to a captured mother), they are very different. Room is a slow-burn piece of literary fiction, and this is a fast-paced thriller based on revenge.

Helena was born thinking her life was normal, even though her father had kidnapped her mother and held her captive for over a decade. Neither of them told Helena this (we assume because they both, for different reasons, wanted her to have as normal a childhood as possible), and it was only after a traumatic event that she escaped & realized what her life had been. We flip back and forth between past-Helena as a child and current-Helena, who has formed a life with a man who has no idea about her past. Her father escapes from prison and Helena knows he will come after her (and her two daughters).

This is a tense thriller, one of the few in the genre that manages to have all the thriller elements I want: rapid-fire pace, a decent plot, good twists and turns, interesting characters, and a satisfactory ending. Of course this is a dark book, with many scenes in Helena’s past that are quite disturbing when you know what is really going on, so if you are sensitive to child abuse or rape this probably isn’t the book for you. But if you want a thriller that actually delivers on its promises, definitely check this out.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Hike, by Drew Magary. Finished June 18th. There are few words that would describe how bizarre and magical this book is. See all that weird shit on the cover? Winged vampires, bloody swans, men in dog masks wrestling, boats, a smoke monster, a conquistador, etc. All of those things are in The Hike. Along with all the weirdos on the back cover, as well.

The Hike plays with the line between fantasy, surrealism, magical realism, and bizarro. It would technically fit in any of those genres, but I think it belongs in a space of its own. It’s violent, hilarious, slapstick comedy-horror at its absolute best.

Until the very end this was a solid 4-star book for me but the ending is just mindblowing and amazing. And surprisingly emotional, given how overall goofy this novel is. The end is suddenly serious and hard-hitting, but in a way that totally fits with the rest of the book. Highly recommend this one!

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Last Place You Look, by Kristen Lepionka. Finished June 18th. This is a mystery novel that could so easily go into cheesy trope territory. On paper, the main character sounds like a walking mishmash of every detective novel: her father was a cop, she’s a private detective, she inherited a lot of his issues (including a drinking problem), she sleeps around and stays out too late. But somehow, Roxane Weary stands head and shoulders above almost every other detective I’ve read about. She is just amazingly complex: headstrong but emotionally sensitive, openly bisexual, determined, willing to make mistakes. Roxane is just wonderfully human.

To go along with the great main character (who is getting a whole series, of which this is the first) there is a great mystery. We get the past-present mystery overlap which seems to popular recently, except in this case the past mystery is “solved:” Roxane is actually hired by the sister of a man on death row for murder. Said sister insists that she saw one of the victims walking around alive and well.

This case ends up connected to both a bunch of cold cases and a ongoing case, and Roxane is stuck in the middle. This is a satisfying mystery that falls into a more traditional “putting the pieces together” model than the current “endless twists and wham moments” that I am growing rather tired of. I am very, very picky about the detective/mystery genre: I want great characters, interesting writing, a good mystery, and a solid conclusion. And, as you can tell by the rating, The Last Place You Look hit every mark for me. Definitely going to read anything this author writes in the future!

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Foxlowe, by Eleanor Wasserberg. Finished June 20th. This book has many elements that I usually love, but I feel that the amazing premise was burdened by an overly childish narrative. This book is about children in a cult/commune, and having horrible events be seen through childish eyes can certainly be done well (Hurt People, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Room) but here it feels a little too washed-out. This might be because there is little depth to the cult at Foxlowe.

There are strange pagan elements to their life and it seems a commune-turned-bad type situation, but there is never enough context. Why are all of these adults totally fine with the child abuse that goes on, especially since for many of them it’s their own child being abused? Why do they worship the Solstices so fervently? What is the cult leader Freya telling them to make them trust her so implicitly? What are the details of their beliefs? It’s kind of a head-scratching situation. And the lack of details made many of the plot details nonsensical.

There are some very cool elements at work here, but they never seem to come together. Possibly because we cut away from Foxlowe just when we start to get some answers, which is incredibly frustrating (and adult Green is an annoying, unpleasant narrator). Green is a very traumatized person, but she’s almost unbearable by the middle of the book. The reader is given little reason to feel bad for her, since she has such a flat affect as a child and then immediately turns into a bitter trainwreck. I did enjoy Foxlowe, but at the end I was really left thinking about what could have been with a little more time & polish.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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The Party, by Robyn Harding. Finished June 21st. This light, fluffy book is exactly what you’d expect from the blurb and cover: Liane Moriarty light. 2.5 seems like a low rating but I didn’t hate it. It was mindless fun, which sometimes you need, but not particularly well-executed mindless fun. I have very few feelings about this one way or the other and not much to say about it. All the characters are terrible but the plot is interesting, though it never really delivers on the wham-moment reveal you are expecting. The drama is a bit trite and everyone acts like a moron, but the writing is solid and the pacing is excellent. Probably a really good beach read.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Sunshine State, by Sarah Gerard. Finished June 21st. While I enjoyed this book of essays, it was really a mixed bag for me. I adore Sarah Gerard’s writing: it is biting and luminous and dark and funny, and her novel Binary Star swept me away. I wanted more of that style from this collection than what I ended up with.

Her personal essays, like “BFF” or “Rabbit,” are beautiful and touching. We get dark little peeks into her childhood and teen years that felt raw and brimming with emotion. And her journalistic essays about other concepts, like the magical “Sunshine State” that focuses on an animal hoarder in charge of a wildlife sanctuary, are just as amazing (though in a totally different way, of course–Gerard does a great job at making these far-away events seem intense and personal).

But many here fall in the middle, like “Going Diamond” and “Mother-Father God.” These essays focus on personal events (like her parents’ involvement in Christian Science and Amway) but alternate between her own history and the history of the church/company. Since her writing on these topics when separate is so good I really expected the combination to be magical, but it was so lacking. I found the constant back-and-forth made her writing come off as dry and distanced.

I still gave this 4 stars because I found many of the essays memorable and beautiful, but it was so wildly inconsistent. Especially because a lot of the half-personal-half-journalism essays were all grouped together, and it was hard for me to power through all of them.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, by Alison Weir. Finished June 26th. Katherine of Aragon is absolutely my favorite of Henry’s queens. She was such an amazing woman, and I often wonder what history would have been like if she had been allowed to rule. It would have been some good times for England, guys. A lot less wife murder too.

I have never read any Weir before this book, and I’m not yet sold on her as the queen of historical fiction. I enjoyed this book, but I felt like she made Katherine WAY more passive than she was in reality. It was really frustrating: she is portrayed as a bystander in her own life for the first 40% or so. She grows a spine and is far more the Katherine I love in the second half, but this was only after Anne entered the scene. I think Katherine was a great, fierce woman way before then.

Of course that is a personal quibble based on my own perception of these historical figures. The writing was great and I think the pacing was excellent (even if we do skim over some important events), so I will be reading the rest of the 5 books in this series. One for each wife!

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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See What I Have Done, by Sarah Schmidt*. Finished June 28th. This book is the love child of His Bloody Project and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It is a historical mystery/thriller based on the infamous Lizzy Borden case, where a girl killed both her father and stepmother with an axe in a sensationally violent fashion. This is a story that has held on to its intrigue throughout the decades, because what possibly could have been her motive? What was going on in that house to cause such a violent reaction? Or was Lizzy just crazy?

We have multiple points of view here: Lizzy herself, Lizzy’s sister Emma, their maid Bridget, and a strange man who may or may not have had something to do with the crime. They alternate pretty consistently, but because of this we got a lot less of Lizzy than what I wanted. I mean, she is at the core of this, so I really wish we had gotten less POVs or a longer story to flesh Lizzy out a bit more as a character.

I feel like my thoughts when reading this were, “this was good, but I wish Schmidt had done x a little differently.” I don’t think this book pushed its story far enough. There are a lot of horrible and bizarre things happening in the Borden house, but it felt like Schmidt shied away from the darker potential she’d built and went for the strange and baffling instead. I wanted the vibe to be darker, creepier, more disturbing. It actually was all of those things, but not as much as you’d be expecting in a story of gristly murder.

The strength of this novel is the writing. It’s flighty and whimsical, especially when we are in Lizzy’s head. There is a strange, airy surrealness here that makes it feel like a fairy tale. When the moments of violence come, they have a particularly dark impact. It also builds suspense fantastically: because of all the shifting narratives we will often know about a core event before the characters it will affect the most, and the buildup to that confrontation actually happening is so tense it’s almost unbearable. It’s one of those books where you know something terrible is going to happen, but you just want to get it over with to break that layer of anxiety.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

Books Read: 109/200

Goal Books: 102

Impulse Reads: 7

[Books marked with a * were provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own]

Reading Wrapup: April 2017 Part II

4 May

I am almost on time with my final wrapup this month. So proud. Actually I had 3 instead of 2 for April (Part I and Dewey’s) so it’s okay that this is not bang on the first of the month. April ended up being a pretty great reading month: 22 books finished! Of course that was with the huge boost Dewey’s gave me. Last year I was regularly doing 20+ a month without readathons, I wonder what happened? Oh, I know: in 2016 I spent part of each day reading (as opposed to my usual, only-before-bed habit) and in 2017 I’ve been playing so many video games. The 100 hours I’ve sunk into Persona 5 could be, like, 40+ books read but what fun would that be.

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Perfect Little World, by Kevin Wilson. Finished April 16th. Sometimes I’ll be really enjoying a book, and suddenly come to a part where you can see the seams coming undone. It begins to drift further and further from what I want it to be, until I wind up at a hot mess of an ending. Sadly, that happened with Perfect Little World: a book with a lot of potential that somehow manages to squander every one of its interesting premises.

I’ll start with the good, because I really don’t want to be massively negative about this. I gave it 3 stars, after all! And that is mostly because of how much I enjoyed the first 2/3rds or so. PLW is about the ‘Infinite Family Project,’ where ten families (9 sets of parents and one single mom, Izzy, our main character) raise their children communally. It sounds like a hippie commune, but it’s led by a child psychologist and funded by a billionaire. So it’s a really scientific commune! With a premise like that, you expect one of two things: a really annoying utopia, or a utopia-turned-dystopia narrative. Thankfully, PLW skirts the border between the two and gives us a story grounded in humanity.

It’s not perfect, but it’s not the wreck the reader (and the outside world in the novel) expect. Sure, there is tension and not all the parents get along. Sure, our main doctor has a host of issues from his parent’s bizarre choices when raising him. Sure, the woman funding the project is really, really old. But for the most part, it presents a nuanced and mainly positive spin on the idea.

However… I had a lot of issues. Many of them I could have overlooked had the ending not been so terribly trite, rushed, and sappy. For instance, our main character Izzy is so annoying. She’s perfect. Perfect grades in school (literally), she’s good at everything she does, she’s beautiful, she’s kind. Kevin Wilson tries to balance her away from being a Mary Sue with a tragic backstory (ironically one of the trademarks of a Mary Sue) and her strange sense of aloofness. Izzy doesn’t like being close to people. She comes off very holier-than-thou yet incredibly boring at the same time. But she’s a decent narrator when she is not talking about herself, so the whole book is not through this “woe is me, poor damaged but perfect girl” lens.

I think the moment I realized I was not going to love this book was when Izzy started falling for the doctor leading the project (this is not a spoiler, it’s mentioned in the prologue). I actually said “oh god really? We’re going there?” when it happened. It’s SO TRITE. Only single woman on the project, only single man, both are damaged by ~rough childhood~, of course they end up together. I though Izzy was actually going to get the “you know what? I don’t need a man” narrative which I would have really respected. Instead it’s so chick-lit-y and sappy and bleh.

The last half of the book feels very rushed. We get quite a few pre-IFP chapters with Izzy, and the intro chapters to the project itself are quite long. And after that, every year in the IFP is only one chapter, with some of them being quite short (like 20 pages short). It’s so rushed! We don’t get the in-depth look at either the children’s development or the parental relations. A LOT of these chapters are spent on Izzy at art school (a plot that goes nowhere because she doesn’t even want to be an artist, sigh).

And the ending! Oh god. It’s so sappy and wrapped in a bow. I was really disappointed in it, mainly because it doesn’t fit at all what we are told about the family & children. Literally makes no sense in its own universe, which is one of the worst things you can do with an ending.

I do think this book had a lot of potential. I think Wilson was too smitten with Izzy as a character, and needed to cut that cord badly. The book should have had a different narrator every year (we follow a different set of parents, for example) and should have been much longer (or the intro chapters should have been cut). Too much of this novel felt like useless fluff to the narrative, and we were left with so little meat on the bone.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone Illustrated, by J. K. Rowling. Finished April 17th. I mean, it’s Harry Potter, what is there to say? I got the illustrated versions of books 1 & 2 for Christmas, and it felt like the perfect time to read them. I actually haven’t re-read the first book in… many years! Let me tell you, I have re-read 3 through 7 dozens of times (no exaggeration) but I tend to skip the early novels on my re-reads. Mostly because they just don’t have enough meat on them.

But I was surprised at how much of Sorcerer’s Stone becomes important down the line. So many hints and nudges toward the final reveals. It’s clear that Rowling had a really tight gameplan from the very beginning. Still far from my favorite of the series, but I really appreciated it more this time around.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Marlena, by Julie Buntin. Finished April 18th. I always find it hardest to discuss books I adored. If it’s a book I hate, there’s lots to talk about. If it’s a middle of the road book, it’s easy to point out both the flaws and the positives. But when I want to do nothing but gush? I find that a lot harder, since I want to avoid spoilers but I also want to do nothing but talk about how much I adored it. Which isn’t that interesting, usually. Yet here we are.

I am a sucker for the toxic female friendship trope. It’s usually done well enough, but I so rarely find a book that really nails that heady, teenage-friendship-gone-wrong feeling I am looking for. Last year’s Girls on Fire was close but no cigar, and I was a bit worried Marlena would be in that YA-trying-to-be-adult niche that just… it doesn’t work. Pick a side, don’t mix the two! Thankfully, Marlena is head and shoulders above pretty much every other book I’ve read in this micro-genre.

I think the thing that makes it so great is that our narrator, Cat, is telling her story as an adult. She is fully grown and reflecting back on her brief but bright-burning friendship with Marlena, her beautiful but troubled next door neighbor. Her life is still clearly affected by her months with Marlena, which is a touch I adored. So often characters go through trauma and then end up totally fine as adults (or have some stupid single flaw like ~can’t stay in one place~). Adult-Cat is an alcoholic, an issue that clearly starts when she begins drinking with Marlena.

While this is a book about teen girls, it is not at all fluffy or frivolous or lacking in depth. It tackles some really serious issues, and Cat’s adult voice adds a layer of gravitas to the tale. Plus, we know right off the bat that Marlena dies after Cat knows her for less than a year. This is a tragedy, pure and simple. There’s really no bright light in the darkness, and while the ending gives us a tiny glimmer of hope for adult-Cat it’s just bleak in general. At the same time, all the teenage dialogue and stupidity feels completely authentic. It’s really hard to write a book about teenagers without it feeling either childish or like an adult trying to be “hip” but Marlena is just… perfect.

I loved everything about this book. The writing was absolutely gorgeous, from the stunning opening line (“Tell me what you can’t forget, and I’ll tell you who you are.”) to the poignant and bittersweet end. The characters are real and flawed and human. The story is compelling but never over-the-top or melodramatic. My only complaint is that I wanted it to be so much longer, I wanted my time in this story to never end.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Penric and the Shaman, by  Lois McMaster Bujold. Hugo Nominated Novella. Finished April 24th. The last Hugo-nominated novella! And for me, my least-favorite (though I did still give it 3 stars).

I think the most impressive thing about Penric and the Shaman is that it’s a sequel novella set in an already-established world but I went in blind and was never confused. The worldbuiling is handled so well, and there is enough recap of the main elements that I felt like I understood it by the end. I do wonder if that is tedious for a long-time reader, though! Are they just sitting there like “no shit there are 5 gods, move along now.”

It’s an interesting world for sure, especially the religion built around its gods. I always like when books do that (i.e Gentleman Bastards). There’s shamans, spirit walks, tons of animals, demons, priests, etc. But I wasn’t particularly riveted by the main plotline. It’s kind of a mystery–a murder mystery at first, and then a magic mystery. It becomes “how do the magic elements line up to solve this plotline?” Which I guess is a cool and unique device but… I just didn’t really care about the characters. Maybe because it’s a sequel and a lot of Penric & Desdemona character growth has already happened? They just felt a little flat to me.

It’s certainly not a bad novella, and I think I might have rated it higher if I hadn’t already read the rest of the Hugo novella nominees (which were all 5- or 4-star reads for me).

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Song of Susannah, by Stephen King. Finished April 24th. The penultimate Dark Tower book! And actually my least-favorite so far. That’s not to say I didn’t like it: I mean, I gave it 3.5 stars! But I found it too short and slow-paced. The entire 500+ pages take place in maybe 3 or 4 hours? It crawls through a very short section of time so not a whole lot could possibly happen.

We do get quite a few answers to questions that were raised in previous books, and there was one element in particular (that, apparently, is the most controversial aspect of the series!) I absolutely loved. But it just wasn’t as powerful as Wolves of the Calla or The Waste Lands, which were my favorites. So far. Fingers crossed I like the last book the best!

I think there is a common thread between all the books in the series I absolutely adored. They all feature the core 4 (Roland, Jake, Oy, Eddie, & Susannah) together. When they are separated/not together (like in Song or The Drawing of the Three) I like but don’t love them. Interesting!

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Homesick for Another World, by Ottessa Moshfeg. Finished April 26th. I didn’t really love last year’s Booker-nominated Eileen, so it might seem a bit odd that I picked this up. But there were aspects of Eileen that I did enjoy (and, to be honest, I need to read a short story collection by a woman for Read Harder) so I decided to give Moshfeg a second chance.

First off: I think Moshfeg is incredibly pretentious and obnoxious as a human being, and I can’t help but let my perception of her affect my reading of her stories a bit. I kept finishing a story, thinking “okay so what was that about” and then realizing she probably thinks it was ~deep~ and ~meaningful.~ I had to actively stop myself from doing this because it was ruining the book for me. Pro tip: unless you’ve heard from others that an author is an awesome human, maybe don’t read interviews with them.

Like Eileen, these stories all focus on the sordid and dirty side of humanity. They are alternately disgusting, cringey, and gag-inducing. There’s a lot of poop and vomit and weird sex and eating disorders and drugs and squalor. But many of them seem more like chapters in a book than stories. They’ll start off interesting, and just kind of… end? Without anything really happening? It felt like reading a ton of opening chapters, but not in a fun If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler kind of way. It was boring and frustrating, which is not what I want from a story collection.

I’m being so negative, but I did not hate this. Moshfeg can indeed write, and I find her fascination with humanity’s disgusting side to be quite intriguing. Sometimes you find yourself identifying with a character and have to take a step back and just…. reconsider some of your life choices. There were a few standouts I will remember, but all in all this was a well written but poorly constructed collection I’ll soon forget.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Why God is a Woman, by Nin Andrews. Finished April 27th. This pose-poetry collection (isn’t it really more like flash fiction at this point? who decides what is prose-poetry? why is that even a category, if they are two separate things? so many random questions here) does what The Power really wanted to. It takes an inverted view of gender and uses this to discuss some very serious ideas & issues.

Why God is a Woman is a magical-realism “story” that takes place on an island where women are the dominant sex, and men sprout wings at puberty. The wings are obviously a metaphor for girls getting their period (the wings bleed as they come in, they have to wear cotton pads, it’s embarrassing and they are teased about it, etc) but they also are an interesting twist on women being the “flighty” sex. Almost every metaphor here works on two levels like this. There is a very obvious one and then a more subtle, insidious comparison to modern life and gender.

It certainly wasn’t a perfect collection. Some of it came off as a little too silly (like all the women in a town are named Angelina because they look like Angelina Jolie?) and some of it is a bit heavy-handed in its delivery. But overall I found this very enjoyable and it was basically what I wanted from The Power on a social commentary level.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The White Princess, by Philippa Gregory. Finished April 30th. So, Philippa Gregory is one of those authors who I insist I “just kind of like.” But I’ve read 11 of her books at this point, so who am I kidding? Some of them I unabashedly love (like The Constant Princess, which kickstarted my interest in historical fiction), some are bland, and others play a little too fast and loose with history for my liking. White Princess definitely falls into the latter category.

This is the story of Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry Tudor and mother of Henry VIII. A very important historical figure! And we’ve seen her several times before in Gregory’s books (namely in the 3 they bunched together for the White Queen tv show). And there are some, ah, magical realism elements at play. Because, you know, maybe Elizabeth and her mother actually did have magical powers! It’s possible, right? But even giving her the “okay so there’s a weird death song they hear when a member of the family dies and they’re descended from a literal water goddess” thing, the amount of liberties taken with history are truly astounding.

For instance, there is no actual proof that Elizabeth had an affair with her uncle, Richard III. But here they were madly in love and she spends about half the book mourning him. And Richard of York, the prince who died in the Tower… probably died in the Tower. Yet here Gregory has decided that one of his many pretenders was actually the real Richard of York, smuggled out of the Tower in secret! And Henry Tudor rapes Elizabeth before their wedding, which there is NO HISTORICAL PROOF FOR. It’s kind of gross that it was included tbh.

So why 3 stars? Something about her books is like crack, guys. Historical fiction crack. I just can’t stop reading them, and I’ve actually read almost all of the Tudor/Cousin’s War books at this point. Might as well finish ‘em off, right?

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

Books Read: 71/200

Goal Books: 65

Impulse Reads: 6

Reading Wrapup: Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon April 2017

4 May

I was down in Philadelphia for the NFL draft on the day Dewey’s actually took place, so I did it exactly 1 week early on April 22nd. I usually just include readathon books in regular wrapups but then they end up being impossibly long, so I decided to split it up this time around! This was a good readathon for me: I only read for about 11 hours (maybe 12? I took a really long break to go for a walk & make dinner) and I didn’t wake up early or stay up later than usual. But I got 7 books read, and 1,186 pages! I mean, I mostly read short things (does Fuku Fuku even count?), but I also hit a lot of goals. I got 2 Man Booker International books, 1 Bailey’s, and 1 Hugo novella off my list, along with 3 physical unread books I own. 2 of them even count for the Read Harder challenge. So they all met goals, which is great! I was hoping to get to both of the Hugo novellas I had to read, but oh well, still a successful readathon.

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Our Numbered Days, by Neil Hilborn. How do you review poetry? I always find it such a daunting task, because poetry is a lot more personal than novels. What we like and what we don’t like won’t always be easily defined, and a great poem for me will fall entirely flat for someone else even if we think we have the same taste in poetry. That said, I absolutely adored this collection. It reminded me a little bit of Melissa Broder and Sam Pink (my favorite modern poets): dark, twisty, emotional, and charged with passion. Many of the poems are about depression and OCD, so I felt a very close personal connection with them that neurotypical readers probably won’t have.

Fun as meditation, meditation being
doing exactly what you want to do
at the exact moment you want
to do it. When I say “I am having fun”
I am also saying “I can’t imagine
being anywhere else.” So suck it,

depression. I don’t need you, I have
not needed you, and even when I don’t
mean it I will say I’m having fun
and I don’t want to be anywhere else.
I will wield my joy like a broadsword
or a fucking nerf gun. I will have
fun like my life depends on it
because it does.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Swallowing Mercury, by Wioletta Greg. MBI longlisted. This was an enjoyable but ultimately forgettable novel about a young girl growing up in 1980′s Poland. It’s an interesting mix of those traditional coming of age elements (discovering sexuality, testing the relationship between parent and child, figuring out what it means to be an adult) with the fall of Communism in the background. For example, in one chapter we have the excitement of a girl getting her first real, grown-up dress, tempered with the knowledge that her mother had to purchase such lovely fabric on the black market. These historical details are very much in the background and don’t dominate the narrative, but they do make an important framework. Because of this, I really suggest reading the translator’s note at the back of the book before reading the novel (novella?) if you aren’t familiar with Polish history. It has almost no spoilers, and provides a lot of context that would have otherwise gone over my head.

The writing is sparkling and beautiful. Wioletta Greg is a poet first and storyteller second, which is pretty clear here. There will be absolutely dazzling sentences about decidedly mediocre characters & plot event. Language alone cannot carry a story to greatness, which is my main takeaway here. Coming of age is a genre I usually greatly enjoy, but everything here lacks depth and connection.

It’s really more a series of vignettes or short stories. We get snippets of Wiola’s life, but none of it feels connected. She gets a cat in one chapter, the cat dies in the next, and that’s it. No more mention of the cat except in very brief passing. It basically goes “oh I am happy I have a cat! Oh no, now I am sad there is no more cat. Anyway here’s what happened with my aunt soandso 2 weeks later.” Many of these chapters really could stand alone as short stories, which is not a compliment. It all feels disconnected, both from the reader and from itself.

I feel almost entirely neutral about Swallowing Mercury. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. I’m sure a few weeks from now I will have trouble even remembering the details of the story, if you can call a series of life snippets a story at all. However, if you like slice of life style fiction this might be a lot more up your alley.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Liquid Status, by Bradley Sands. The blurb for this compares it to Blake Butler, especially There Is No Year, which is right on the money. This is a strange, bizarre little novella about a family that becomes trapped in their house after the grandmother dies in the living room. Things get very strange very quickly: after the door disappears, the first thing that happens is the grandmother turning into a Slip ‘n Slide. And that is one of the least out there things that happens in the pages of Liquid Status.

I gave this a good rating, but it might actually be a little too Blake Butler. The influence is clear, and a harsher reviewer might even call it derivative. But there’s a humor here that you don’t find in Butler’s writing. The bizarre events have an element of comedy to go along with the horror, and I actually laughed aloud at some passages. But it’s missing the hallucinatory power of Butler’s language, and at the end I was left a little more puzzled than enraptured.

Bizarro is a genre I do enjoy when done right, and I sadly find that most things in the genre are misses for me. I want there to be some reason behind the strangeness, a meaning the reader can at least try to eke out. Writers like Jeremy Robert Johnson do this very well, and of course Blake Butler (though personally I would never classify him as bizarro), and I think I can safely add Bradley Sands to that category. I did want a little more from Liquid Status than I got, but in the end I’m very glad to have found a new author to follow.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Dark Circle, by Linda Grant. Bailey’s shortlisted. The last of the Bailey’s books I plan on tackling! I haven’t read the whole longlist (though I might eventually get to Barkskins), but I do think 13 out of 16 is pretty good. My main goal was to get to the entire shortlist, and this is the last of those 6 I had unread.

The name does make it seem like this will be a more moody and dark book than it actually is. While the plot, which centers on two twins who end up in a tuberculosis sanatorium before a cure is discovered, it certainly not sunshine and rainbows, it’s got a strongly positive core. There is a large and diverse cast at the sanatorium: men and women from all walks of life, and while their lives are far from pleasant they form strong bonds and friendships.

This is not the type of book I would normally pick up, but I found it quite enjoyable. It was basically everything I wanted from The Ballroom. The writing is beautiful, the setting is slow and atmospheric, the cast of characters is very strong. However, I did not find it particularly memorable. While I’m certainly not upset that I read it, it’s also not a book that will stick with me down the line.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Unseen, by Roy Jacobsen. MBI shortlisted. Oddly enough, the things I loved about The Unseen were things I had issues with in Swallowing Mercury. They both have short chapters and most of them could stand alone as short stories. The Unseen is about a family on an isolated island in Norway and we get snippets of their daily life throughout quite a few years. And while some of the chapters were almost stand-alones, there was more connectivity on The Unseen and I felt like the characters were significantly more engaging and sympathetic.

This is a dark, desolate book. The lives of all the characters are very harsh, and there is little for them to live for other than their family. The island they live on seems to be actively working against them: for example, the father decides to build a structure on their property, and it is almost instantly blown down during a harsh storm. Yet he keeps trying, constructing the bones of the new structure again and again until he gets it right.

There is a level of futility beneath the surface here. Everything seems to go wrong at the most inopportune moment. Life on the island seems almost hopeless, and yet our family keeps trudging forward against the current. It’s poetic in a way, but also depressing. However, I really enjoyed the bleakness and felt like it was delivered amazingly well. While of course this is a book in translation, Jacobsen can spin a beautiful sentence and tell a mesmerizing story.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Fuku Fuku Kitten Tales Vol 2, by Konami Kanata. It’s a cute manga about kittens, what more could you want? While the stories here do not have the depth of emotion you find in The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home, Part 1, they’re sure to please any cat lover. No one does feline faces and emotions like Kanata Konami: they’re so perfect and adorable! And, of course, very relateable for any cat owner.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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A Taste of Honey, by Kai Ashante Wilson. Hugo Novella Nominee. What a pleasant surprise this was! I honestly only read it because it was a Hugo novella nominee, and I am so glad I made that choice. Everything about this sparkled. The setting, the character, the stories… I’m in love!

A Taste of Honey tells the story of Aqib, who lives in a very homophobic society. It’s a fantasy setting, of course, but a unique one. Instead of generic European medieval lands, this is African fantasy. The setting is lush, vibrant, and captivating. Aqib works in the royal menagerie, which involves things like taking a tame cheetah out hunting and teaching pink bears to dance. There is also magic, of course, since this is fantasy… but it’s very strange magic. In fact, it’s basically math. And, in a clever twist on the ‘women are the most magical gender’ trope, math is now considered “women’s work.” I say now because there are some hints that this is perhaps Earth way in the future, after an apocalypse that poisoned the planet. There are also all kinds of other witches who do things like talk to birds and lift 10 times their body weight, but it’s also implied that this is connected to opening some part of the brain with, you guessed it, math! We even have math-powered god beings. Wilson manages to squeeze a huge amount of world building into a very slim volume.

At the beginning of the story, Aqib falls in love with the visiting soldier Lucrio. It’s forbidden for them to be together of course, and while this is a fantasy novel it’s also a romance. It’s told in a non-linear fashion, but each section is dated (either by Aqib’s age or by the days he & Lucrio spent together) so it never gets confusing or convoluted. It’s very easy to follow all the threads, and there are a lot of them! The ending was completely unexpected and actually left me a bit teary, which is saying a lot. Wilson managed to make me care so deeply about these characters in well under 200 pages.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

If looking over this list has taught me anything, it’s that I have very strange taste in books.

Reading Wrapup: January 2017

13 Feb

My reading got off to a rough start this year. I read less books in January of 2017 than I had in years! It was back in early 2015 that I had such a slow reading month… and back then, it was probably just my reading speed at the time. It was really a combination of things: winter blues, picking up some real chunkers (that I didn’t even finish in January!), and generally feeling like I wasn’t hitting my goals. I couldn’t settle on any one book, I was reading 5 at a time… it was a mess.

I decided in February to combat this by tracking my books not just by numbers and statistics, but by how meaningful they are for my challenges. And I realized that between my TBR, getting through ARCs and owned books, series challenges, and Read Harder, I was doing great! It made me feel so much better about my slow reading, and I’m almost back on track numbers wise. So for this year, I’ll be counting books by whether or not they fit a challenge at the end of these wrapups (unlike 2016, where I detailed each challenge individually).

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Watership Down, by Richard Adams. Finished January 6th. Watership Down is one of those books I read over and over again as a kid and young teen. It’s one of my all-time favorites, and I have immensely fond memories of it. I wanted to start 2017′s reading off on a good note (plus, let’s be honest, I needed a re-read for the Read Harder challenge) and the timing just seemed perfect. There’s that BBC adaptation coming out this year, and it also felt like a fitting homage to the late Richard Adams to start my year off with him. I was a bit hesitant that it wouldn’t live up to my memories, though.

I shouldn’t have been! It’s a classic for a reason, and I definitely had a different experience reading it now as an adult. All of those folktales the rabbits tell to each other? SO much foreshadowing packed in there. As a kid I thought they were just cute/creepy stories, but it’s amazing how much meaning is shoved into those few pages. It felt so familiar to read but also fresh and new because I was picking up on all these nuances I’d missed previously.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Transmigration of Bodies, by Yuri Herrera. Finished January 7th. This slim volume is absolutely packed with amazing elements. It’s a noir-inspired novel (novella?) about a go-between for two rival gangs. There are elements of Romeo & Juliet, and it’s set in Mexico during what seems to be a plague. It’s a violent, almost apocalyptic tale about family, grief, and loyalty.

The writing is fantastic. There are no quotation marks for speech, so you get sucked into the world immediately. It’s a brutal book, but also a hilarious one: our narrator is quite funny, and comes up with amazing nicknames for all the characters. It’s very clever, because the author can skip physical descriptions but you can instantly picture the person. For example, one of his neighbors is Three Times Blonde. You can picture that woman in your head immediately, right? It’s kind of brilliant.

Yet for some reason, all these fantastic elements added up to a “just okay” book for me. It’s really a case of “it’s not you, it’s me” because I have no idea why I didn’t love this. I think the length was perfect, the writing was amazing, the ideas were so cleverly executed, and it had moments of really deep contemplation. Why didn’t I adore it?! No clue, really. If it sounds like something you’re interested in I really would recommend this, I just didn’t find it entirely engaging.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Multiple Choice, by Alejandro Zambra. Finished January 9th. I love poetry, and I tend to be drawn to the weirder, quirkier side of the genre. Do most reviews go “this is really weird?” Then it’s for me! And what’s stranger than this, a book of poetry formatted like a multiple-choice test.

It’s an interesting choice of format, because it allows Zambra to do a lot in a slim volume. Because each ‘poem’ is multiple choice, the reader is given different ways to read it: sometimes as few as 1, sometimes as many as 10. So the same poem means a lot of different things depending on your choice. It also stirs up some nostalgia, because I think 99% of readers will have taken one of those annoying state-sponsored tests before. So it’s a familiar format, but the content is so fresh and innovative.

Of course none of that would matter if the writing itself sucked. But obviously it doesn’t! There are actual storylines and themes, which I’ll be honest–I wasn’t expecting. I thought it was just going to be a cute format with maybe not so much substance, but these poems pack an emotional punch. Some of them are political, but many are personal… and a real punch to the gut. Highly recommended for anyone who likes poetry–I also think this might be a good jumping-in point if you want to read poetry, because it’s really interactive and easily keeps your attention.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Six Four, by Hideo Yokohama*. Finished January 10th. This is the slowest of slow-burn mystery novels. In a way, it’s barely even about a mystery. Sure, we focus in on the Six Four kidnapping, a 14-year-old case that has never been solved. But our protagonist, Mikami, is not a detective: he works in Administrative Affairs dealing with the press. As such, there’s a lot about media relations and the day-to-day tedium of his work. Oh, and Mikami also has a missing child who has been classified as a runaway, and he worked on the Six Four case when it happened.

There are a lot of overlapping threads here, but for most of the book the central mystery is on the backburner. 80% of the chapters are about his job, and how much he misses being a detective. I’m going to be brutally honest: I think this book should have been 300 pages shorter. The middle is a real struggle to get through. I absolutely did not care about Mikami’s job and whether or not they were going to release the name of a pregnant woman whose crime is totally irrelevant to our actual mystery. It could have been covered in 2 chapters, instead we get 400 pages of waffling over it and all the ensuing drama.

I almost gave up on this book several times. It felt like a real slog for the first 450 or so pages: just chapter after chapter of police drivel about things I didn’t care about. His missing daughter is barely mentioned. Politics seem more important than solving the case. And almost every character has a name that starts with M, which gets hella confusing! Thankfully, there is a reason for that last part (and it’s really cool).

So far I have just been complaining, but I did give this book a decent score. That’s because the ending is totally amazing. About 80% of the way in a really big event happens and the book picks up tremendously. I was amazed at how so many of the threads came together: it was artfully done. It was also a really satisfying ending, one where you’re shocked but it doesn’t feel like the author did it just for the shock factor. It’s so carefully crafted. But still… this book is way too long and tedious, I feel like most readers won’t have the dedication to tough out the beginning/middle for the amazing end. Worth it if you’re into really slow-burn crime fiction and are willing to make the journey.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Shelter, by Jung Yun. Finished January 10th. I have seen Shelter described as many things: a crime novel, a mystery, even as a thriller. I think those descriptions do a disservice to the book, though. Sure, it centers around a crime, but there is very little mystery (we find out what happened & who did it very early on) and zero thriller elements. This is, at its core, a family drama about trauma, grief, loyalty, and honor. It centers around our very flawed protagonist Kyung, who had a rough childhood and is very distanced from his parents. One day he finds his mother bloody and naked in his backyard, and is drawn back into their tangled life.

No one in this book is particularly likeable, even the victims. They all make bad (but realistic) decisions: like Kyung and his wife Gillian, who are almost half a million in debt on their house but go on small vacations they can’t afford every year anyway. Kyung in particular seems hell-bent on driving his life into the ground, and reading through his eyes is a frustrating experience. You just want to slap him and stop him from making a series of increasingly terrible decisions. But as in life, you just have to watch the trainwreck go by.

This book deals with some heavy topics (if you are sensitive to rape/domestic abuse I’d be cautious about reading this), but it handles them artfully and with sensitivity. And for a novel with no real mystery or plot drive (we’re basically just dealing with the aftermath of an attack) it’s such a page turner. I do think some of the turns it took near the end were a bit unrealistic/unexplained so I docked a star for that, but it’s a wonderful and sobering read.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Gunslinger, by Stephen King. Finished January 10th. For years I’ve wanted to read the Dark Tower series. I mean, I love Stephen King and have read about a third of his books (considering how many he has, this is an accomplishment), but why have I never touched this series? It’s hella intimidating, that’s why! 8 (7?) books growing larger and larger in length and everyone talks about how weird and complicated the world is.

Well, that’s true. It’s a very strange, very surreal world. And I’ll be honest, after this first book (and the next few haha) I have nooooo idea what the greater plot is or how the world functions. What even is the Tower? Who knows! But in a surprising twist, I don’t mind feeling like this. King is an amazing storyteller, and he lays the main plot of The Gunslinger out perfectly. Even when you have no clue why things are happening, you know exactly what is happening. It’s a fine line to walk, and I think a lot of fantasy authors that go for “big complicated world we throw the reader into” fall flat on their faces. The Gunslinger is complex and confusing, but at the same time the main plot is simple and easy to digest. Weird, right? And I have a feeling things are just going to keep getting weirder…

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. Finished January 12th. Like everyone else who has read this book, once I finished it I immediately wanted to go hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Thankfully, about 2 hours later I realized it was a terrible idea because I’m kind of fond of my toenails and I enjoy having more than one pair of underwear.

This is the story of a very flawed woman who does something truly insane to find herself. A lot of the complaints about Wild seem to be about Cheryl herself: so if you don’t like flawed protagonists, people who make stupid mistakes and consistently do the wrong thing, this is not for you. If you want a morally straight heroine to root for? Not for you. This is, of course, strengthened by the fact that Cheryl is real. The mistakes, the drugs, the sex, it’s all real. This is a real woman who made some insane decisions, and the reader is just along for the ride. But if you want adventure, that sense of wide-eyed wonder, the cleanliness of a fresh start? It’s a wonderful book.

I don’t usually enjoy memoirs because let’s be honest: the writing is often very middle-of-the-road. Thankfully, Wild is immersive and beautifully written. Cheryl Strayed’s descriptions of the trail are breathtaking, and she is very frank and honest about her life decisions. Some of the scenes here (especially the horse-shooting one) will stick with me for a very long time. I was so involved in the story I didn’t want to do anything but read this book!

It’s certainly not a perfect memoir: there was a little too much off-the-trail content and I do wish it was a little longer, but it was absolutely one of the best I’ve ever read in the genre. If you like survival-themed stories and don’t usually read nonfiction, I think this is a great jumping-in point for the genre.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

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The Twilight Wife, by A.J. Banner. Finished January 14th. This is a stupid book and I feel stupid for reading the whole thing. Have you read Before I Go to Sleep? Then you’ve read this book too. The plot is a weak copy-cat of a book I didn’t even like to start with!

Actually, this book does one thing better than BIGtS: the atmosphere is really great. Our main character is a marine biologist and it takes place on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest. Lots of foggy, rainy beach scenes and some interesting tidbits about marine life. It was moody and dreary and evocative.

Everything else? Terrible. Plot: woman with amnesia has a husband she ~doesn’t trust~ oooh original! Oh, and it’s both retrograde and anterograde amnesia, which… is impossible. I mean, it’s a bit more believable than the “I only remember 24 hours” of BIGtS, but it’s just so been there done that. Suspicious lack of memories of her husband? Romantic memories of a man who isn’t her husband? Strange doctor visits? A suspicious therapist? The ability to recall memories at a convenient point in the plot? False suspense based on constant memory loss? Friends who won’t be truthful? Yeah… you’ve probably read this book before.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

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Five Stories High, edited by Jonathan Oliver. Finished January 16th. This year, I’m trying to stop all of the impulse-reading I do. Sticking only to my owned but not read/tbr books. Because usually impulse reads are shit (see: The Twilight Wife). But this… this was an amazing impulse read. When I read the synopsis I knew it was basically meant for me. 5 novellas by 5 authors about a house reminiscent of House of Leaves? Yes please.

I really loved this book. It’s a representation of the best that modern weird fiction can do. There’s a sense of unease that isn’t just from the individual stories: it’s truly the cohesive whole that makes this great. Because the stories don’t all fit together. They all take place in Irongrove Lodge, yes, but the timelines and layout of the house directly contradict each other. Yet we have in-between sections cataloguing the history of the house and our narrator assures us they are all true. Somehow, this house is in different places and different times in different shapes. As I said, very HoL!

Not all of the stories worked for me, which is the only reason this didn’t get 5 stars. I am absolutely obsessed with 3 of them (“Maggots,” “Gnaw,” & “Skin Deep”), and I enjoyed the bizarro-style “The Best Story I Could Manage Under The Circumstances.” But I felt like “Priest’s Hole” wasn’t as strong either thematically or writing-wise to stand up to the other 4. It was honestly pretty forgettable, while the other stories are so memorable (though in different ways). But really, that’s my only complaint! And “Priest’s Hole” isn’t a bad story by any means, it’s just not quite on the level of the others.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Devil of Nanking, by Mo Hayder. Finished January 18th. This book was a pleasant surprise. I think I was expecting more shock-horror based on the summary (which I’m not a huge fan of), but I’d seen so many positive reviews (and I can’t resist thrillers set in Japan) so I decided to give it a go. Well, friends, this is not at all shock-horror, so if a book about Nanking freaks you out don’t fear: there’s no gratuitous violence. In fact, there’s little violence at all… though when it does happen, it’s very effective.

This is a dual-narrative thriller/horror about a young woman obsessed with a video shot during the Rape of Nanking. The other timeline follows the past of man who has the video, but doesn’t want to give it up. While the violence in Nanking is obviously the theme that ties these two together, there’s a lot going on: hostess bars, a possibly haunted and decaying mansion in Tokyo, the yakuza, and a potential immortality potion. Our main character has a strange and traumatic past, there’s a psychotic murderous nurse… good stuff all around. It may seem like a lot to shove into a book just over 300 pages long, but it works so effectively. Mo Hayder is a very skilled storyteller: the themes in both narratives fit together perfectly, and the pacing was fantastic.

My main complaint probably seems very strange, and possibly callous: I was expecting the final reveal of what’s on the tape/what happened to be WAY worse than it was. This is potentially because I’ve read a lot about real-world tragedies, so I was kind of expecting it to be the most horrible thing that had ever happened in human history or some nonsense like that. I mean, it is terrible (and based on something that actually happened in Nanking) and shocking but… maybe I’m just immune to how terrible humans are. I spent the whole book kind of tensing up in preparation for the ending, but I think there were scenes in the “main” present-day narrative that were far worse? Or at least more effective horror: it’s definitely a scary book.

If you like psychological thrillers but are tired of the endless copy-paste “woman in danger” narrative that is tossed around in today’s publishing world, this might be a book for you. It’s very fresh-feeling. Or if you like wartime historical fiction, books set in China/Japan, slow creeping horror… really, it’s a novel with broad appeal.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Black Feathers, edited by Ellen Datlow*. Finished January 25th. From a young age, I’ve been obsessed with corvids, especially crows and blue jays. I am especially fond of fictional birds and stories that revolve around them, so I was sold on this book as soon as I saw the cover. Creepy crows, plague masks, and edited by the always-wonderful Ellen Datlow? Yes please.

As you would expect in a horror collection about birds, this is a slow and moody read. The stories really get under your skin: even when there are no wow-horror moments, they are all very unsettling and unnerving. You just feel uneasy reading them. Don’t come into this expecting the horror to be spoon-fed to you: most stories have very open endings, and there are very few actual ‘explanations’ for the strange events and creatures we encounter. It’s a style I really love, but I don’t think it will be for everyone. If you want answers and monsters shoved into the light, look elsewhere.

The stories I loved the most were all by authors I know and adore already: Paul Tremblay, Seanan McGuire, Jeffrey Ford, Stephen Graham Jones, Livia Llewellyn. It’s a great whose-who of modern weird fiction. There were, of course, stories I didn’t love: this will be true in almost any collection, though! I’m sure the ones I would cut out of the collection are ones another reader will adore. And I think there’s a little something for every type of horror reader here: historical horror, weird fiction, gothic fantasy, etc. I do recommend reading them spaced out (1-2 a day) because the theme can make them feel a bit same-y if you speed read through it.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Silence, by Shūsaku Endō. Finished January 27th. This is a classic piece of Japanese fiction that I’ve been meaning to get to for a long time. I’ve owned a copy for probably 10 years, but for some reason I never picked it up. Even though everything about it seems like something I’d love: Japanese literature set during one of my favorite time periods and featuring Jesuit priests. Yet I was intimidated: it’s that “classics” tag, I think. I view classics as these huge, imposing works that I have to love or else. Which is stupid, because then I just end up making them too big in my head and end up never reading them or finding them disappointing.

And, kind of sadly, Silence didn’t totally live up to my expectations. I still enjoyed it, but I think taking 6+ days to read it (I was doing about a chapter a day) made the reading experience suffer. Because this is a slow book: it’s slim, but there’s little action and the majority is discussions between the very small cast. Or traveling across Japan all alone. Of course, the core of the book is in these slow, sad moments. It’s about religion, obviously, but it also touches on other themes like our purpose in life and losing a sense of hope and optimism. So it’s both slow and very depressing. I like to inhale books like that in one or two sittings, so maybe it’s my own fault that I didn’t love this.

There were many things I did love, of course. Certain moments felt so true and real and raw. Some of the revelations were touching. And I don’t think you have to be at all religious to enjoy this (I’m certainly not!): though it’s a core theme, nothing is ever preachy, and it’s as much about culture clash and persecution as it is about any specific religious concept.

I think the first section and the ending parts are the strongest. The middle drags a little and many of the scenes feel very same-y. I wanted a little more character development from our side people, and maybe a little less introspection from the main priest.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

Books Read: 12/200

Goal Books: 9

Impulse Reads: 3

[Books marked with a * were provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own]

Favorite Books of 2016: Standalones

30 Jan

Picking my favorite books of the year is always a difficult task. Narrowing down 250+ books to just a handful? I keep a running shelf of my favorite books of the year on Goodreads, but it was sitting at 47 for 2016 so even that wasn’t entirely helpful. I went into this with no set number in mind, and ended up with 13 books. The mix is surprising: there’s one book each from the 3 prize longlists I read through (Man Booker, Man Booker International, and National Book Award), 2 collections of poetry, and a very interesting mix of genres. Some of my favorite authors made the cut, but most of them were new-to-me reads. I certainly could have added more books to the list since 13 was an arbitrary number, but I think this list really captures how diverse and exciting my reading year was.

[...]

September Reading Wrapup: Part I

25 Sep

September has been a seemingly endless month. I look back at the books I read early in September and say, “really, that was this month?!” It probably feels that way because my reading was very different the first few weeks of the month and the last two. For the first half, I focused on series and a few shorter reads. For the second, I’ve been reading through the National Book Award Longlist (which will be its own post in Part II!). Aside from one small book I read in between the NBA books, which will be included in this wrapup just for cohesion’s sake. So let’s get started!

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Dragon Haven, by Robin Hobb. Finished September 3rd. I finished the first book in the Rain Wild Chronicles at the end of August, and dived directly into the rest of the series. I heard pretty negative things about this series (for a Hobb book, I mean, nothing damning) but I really loved this book. So much worldbuilding takes place here, and while it’s a pretty new cast they’re well fleshed out and loveable/hateable like you expect Hobb’s people to be.

I especially loved the focus on the dragons. They’re in the background of all the previous trilogies, so to get a real, close look at how they behave? Fantastic. I’m hoping this all sets up for some dragon shennanigans in the last Fitz trilogy.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur. Finished September 4th.

did you think I was a city
big enough for a weekend getaway
i am the town surrounding it
the one you’ve never heard of
but always pass through
there are no neon lights here
no skyscrapers or statues
but there is thunder
for i make bridges tremble
i am not street meat i am homemade jam
thick enough to cut the sweetest
thing your lips will touch
i am not police sirens
i am the crackle of a fireplace
i’d burn you and you still
couldn’t take your eyes off me
cause i’d look so beautiful doing it
you’d blush
i am not a hotel room i am home
i am not the whiskey you want
i am the water you need
don’t come here with expectations
and try to make a vacation out of me

I impulse-picked this up at The Strand because 1) signed copy, duh and 2) pretty cover. I am such a whore for a good cover. Thankfully, I loved this! I found some of the poems a bit hit-or-miss (the last section especially didn’t resonate with me at all), but the poems that did hit? Man, they were powerful and beautiful. Plus the whole book is illustrated. The art, like the poems, have an air of simplicity that I really loved.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Dead Souls, by J. Lincoln Fenn*. Finished September 4th. I will admit that I am a huge impulse reader, and I requested this book because the cover looked pretty and it seemed like a fun horror read. After finishing it, I would not use the word “fun” in any way to describe Dead Souls. In fact, the word “fun” probably has a restraining order and Dead Souls is not allowed to be within 100 feet of it.

This is a dark, gritty horror novel. The premise seems like a setup for a horror-comedy: a girl gets drunk at a bar and sells her soul to the devil, and then joins a support group for other “dead souls.” It’s definitely NOT a comedy, though there are a sprinkling of very dark funny moments. It’s a much more philosophical book than I expected, which perhaps the title (a mirror of Gogol’s Dead Souls, very intentionally) should have tipped me off to. There’s a lot of “what does it mean to be damned, is there any reason to be moral if you know you’re going to hell, what would you do to get your soul back, what kind of sacrifice is too big” stuff going on. This book is very much about people wrestling with the idea that they have no future, yet struggling to build one anyway.

This is also a very, very violent book. The dead souls each have to do a “favor” for the devil (named Scratch here) at some point in the future. There are hints about how dark the favors are, but at about 70% of the way we start seeing some of them in person. Imagine the murder tableaus in Hannibal amped up to 11. I actually physically recoiled from the book at one point, so it’s definitely not for anyone with a weak stomach. However, while the favors are stomach-churning, there’s not even a hint of sexual violence which I really appreciated. I think in the hands of another author this could definitely read as a over-the-top, gratuitous book, but Fenn does such a good job of balancing these moments of disgust with poignant thoughts about the human condition. And our narrator is just as revolted and appalled as we are.

I was pleasantly surprised by Dead Souls: it was nothing like what I expected, in the best way possible.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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City of Dragons, by Robin Hobb. Finished September 6th. The third Rain Wilds book! And definitely my favorite of the four. Some old favorites re-appear, but I was more impressed by the development of our core, new cast. The story takes some interesting twists and turns but still continues to build on the dragon lore. I grew very, very fond of quite a few of the characters in this and Rapskal in particular probably rates among my favorite Elderling characters.

What I think is perhaps most impressive about Hobb’s writing is how she is able to craft characters that you love one moment yet hate the next without having them be inconsistent. In this installment, a character who I totally loathed had some amazing development and actually had me rooting for him–but it was totally believable as an arc for him.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Arrival of Missives, by Aliya Whiteley. Finished September 8th. What an odd little book. This is a pretty strange historical fiction/magical realism mashup that definitely was not at all what I was expecting. To be honest, I don’t think any reader would expect the direction it goes in unless they knew the plot beforehand. All you need to know is: a girl in post-WWI England falls in love with her teacher. When she confesses her love, he tells her that he has a special message to deliver…

It’s hard to describe what I liked about this. The story is totally bizarre and it’s a really weird clash of genres that almost doesn’t work, yet somehow does at the same time? Even the parts ‘grounded in reality’ seem kind of surreal: while it’s set right after World War I, some of the historical elements seem like they’re from a much older time. It’s a small, rural farming town, and without the date to ground it I’d easily believe this took place in the 1800′s (or earlier, to be honest).

Something about this book is so dreamy and compelling. It’s certainly not a page-turner, but I was so involved in the writing that I flew through this in one short sitting. If you like magical realism/new weird-style fantasy and can take a healthy dose of strange, I definitely recommend this.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Blood of Dragons, by Robin Hobb. Finished September 8th. I enjoyed this, but it’s probably my least favorite Robin Hobb book. It lacked the emotional wallop of her other finales, and felt oddly rushed-large chunks of time and important events were skipped over.

I was also pretty unhappy with the entire love triangle situation. I didn’t like the resolution, or what happened with Rapskal’s character. Not a lot of good development for anyone though really. And I felt like core characters from the first 3 books took a backseat for new additions we really didn’t need. Too many story lines for a too short book!

Still enjoyed the series, but it didn’t reach those Fitz/Liveship feels.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. Finished September 14th. Henry James is overly fond of run-on sentences, and commas, but despite this-or perhaps because of it-he has produced a spooky tale, a vague horror, an unsettling ghost story for the ages.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Secret Sins, by C.D. Reiss. Finished September 22nd. It kind of kills me to dislike a C.D. Reiss book, especially one about the Drazen girls, but this was a huge flop for me. It was missing literally everything I enjoy about her books. The characters were flat, dull, and unlikeable. There was no chemistry between our love interests. The drama was dull and predictable. I mean, it’s billed as a book where it’s impossible to guess the twist. However, under 20% of the way in I guessed it exactly and quickly dismissed my assumption as, “oh man, wouldn’t that be stupid? That’s way too stupid to be the actual twist.”

Sadly… it’s a really freaking stupid twist that kind of fucks up all the other Drazen books she’s written. Just why?! Very unhappy with this one.

LipstickRating1And1Half

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

205/175 Books

24/35 Series Books

56/50 TBR Books

22/15 Different Countries

[books marked with a * were provided by netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own]

May 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part II

2 Jun

The first week of May was a great one for reading. The rest of the month? Maybe not so much. In terms of number of books read nothing much has changed (in fact May was very high in that regard) but my reading was all over the place. I skimped on my goals (only one series book read, and 1/3rd of the tbr books that I did in April). I also read a lot of lackluster novels. I think this is because I am in a major reading slump that started mid-month: nothing I pick up holds my attention, and I’ve found myself bouncing from book to book without settling down. I started a bunch of books that I really should love (authors/series I adore) but couldn’t get more than 10 pages in before giving up. So I spent most of the month reading “fast” books, ones that grab you and reel you in but are totally forgettable the moment you put them down. Yeah, not the best, but at least I got something done!

Strap in, because this is a long one. I originally intended to do weekly posts for May, but I guess because of my slumpy-ness I thought I didn’t tackle that much this month. I was horribly, horribly wrong. We’ve got a lot of books coming up.

[...]

May 2016 Reading Wrapup | Part I

9 May

After the amazing end of April, I continued on the “reading lots of arcs” trend. While I did read a lot this week, I felt like somehow my progress was slowing down. Probably because while the number is still high, I read quite a few shorter things: 4 books of poetry and a graphic novel. But hey, reading is reading, and one of my (unofficial) goals this year was to read more diversely in terms of format. So, I definitely accomplished that this week!

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The Girls, by Emma Cline. Read May 1st. This book was really a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” I think most people are going to love this, and I get all the hype surrounding it. The writing is amazing, and it’s infinitely quotable. Emma Cline captures the experience of being a teenage girl so, so well. Everything Evie, our main character, feels was so eerily familiar to me. The way your youth becomes all about presenting yourself, trying on different identities and seeing what people make of you. The way you’re shaped not by how you feel about yourself, but by how others see you.

This book is really two things: a book about a fictionalized Manson family and a book about being a young teenage girl. The two meld together well but I found myself wanting more from both, like the balance between them is so even we don’t get enough depth from either end. Evie spends a lot of time working on her feminine presentation, sexualizing herself from a young age as she’s been socialized to do. There’s some great moments where the extend of sexual abuse and assault that 99% of girls go through (the guy flashing you in the movies, a drunk trying to stick his hand down your pants, mom’s boyfriend being really inappropriate, a terrifying moment in a car with a stranger) is really put into focus. Most of us have experienced it, and there’s a tendency to push it away and laugh about it and say, “oh, that’s just life, it wasn’t anything serious!” when it so greatly shapes how we view ourselves. The sexualization of girls is fed by the violence and pressure around them, but also conflates those experiences. It’s a fascinating dynamic, but this book discusses it just enough to whet your appetite without going in-depth. I wanted more on these topics, which were handled so well but tapered off before I felt the discussion was finished.

The titular Girls are part of a sanitized Manson family. It’s the Mansons without the racism and with way less violence and murder. This is an odd choice, because for so many parts this could almost be a true crime novel. The characters are directly related to the actual Manson family, and so are almost all of the events surrounding them. And while we get tons of creepy cult moments, it’s just much cleaner than reality was. It was an odd choice to remove Helter Skelter and the race war (and yet not have any black characters, smh) but keep in everything else. Except there’s only one murder here (well, 4 people die, but there’s one murderous event), where the real life Mansons killed many times. It’s just… strange editorial decisions that I don’t really understand. In my mind, I’d like it either 100% true to reality OR vastly different and just inspired by reality. My brain got stuck up on all the similarities and differences here, which I found a little distracting.

My favorite part, by far, was the friendship between Evie and Suzanne, the main Manson girl. You know I love toxic, passionate female friendships and we get an amazing one here, along with a discussion of sexual fluidity (though, like before, this is really not gone into enough for me–I wanted more self reflection!). All in all, I’m torn. Parts of this book were magnificent and parts left me wanting.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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My Best Friend’s Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix. Finished May 2nd. I read Hendrix’s Horrorstor earlier this year and enjoyed it but didn’t love it, so my expectations weren’t super high for this. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised!

I’m not sure if it’s common with readers or just a particular quirk of mine, but whenever I read a book about exorcism I spend the majority of the time trying to guess if it’s a “real” possession or just plain old madness. I never quite believe it’s a devil inside of someone, no matter how strange it gets. I think most books either play it too “obviously it’s just a crazy person” or go so overboard with the demon stuff I kind of lose interest. Few books walk that line really well, which is why exorcism horror is a genre I rarely read. When it’s done well, though, it’s brilliant, like A Head Full of Ghosts.

Given my high rating for this I’m assuming you can guess how it fares in the is-it-a-demon curve. It’s an interesting book: I guess, technically, it’s young adult. It’s about a group of teen girls, and while it’s about demons and shit it’s mostly about friendship. But it doesn’t have any of the obnoxious YA tropes that have recently put me off the genre (insta-love, love triangles, everyone’s an orphan, “special magical girl,” etc). It’s YA as it should be: a story about young people that doesn’t feel dumbed down for the audience.

I am a particular sucker for books that center on female friendship, and that’s really the core here. Gretchen and Abby have a wonderful, realistic teen relationship with all of the ups and downs that come with it. And, of course, the possession works as a metaphor for diverging personalities and the angst of losing a close friend. It’s also got some great gross-out moments (vomit, worms, dead birds, everything you could want) along with some really emotional moments centered around violence (the bathtub, sob). And while it takes over 80% of the book to get to the exorcism, what an exorcism it is. Emotionally charged and comedic while being quite dark and hard to read.

This is horror based firmly in reality. A lot of the issues the girls deal with (eating disorders, sexual violence, the ignorance of adults) are realistically what real teens face. Of course there’s an added layer of threat here, but none of the “teen drama” feels overplayed or out of touch (though this is a book that takes place in the 80′s). Definitely recommended if a blend of female friendship and horror is up your alley.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Last Sext, by Melissa Broder. Finished May 3rd. Poetry is a tricky thing to review. Reading it is so deeply personal, and a great poem for one person is not an objectively great poem for another. For example: I hate Emily Dickenson. I don’t think she is a bad poet, but nothing she’s written has moved me at all. I find her very dry. And a lot of people find her one of the best poets to ever write. So when I say I loved and adored Last Sext what I mean is that it spoke to my soul in a way few collections of poetry do.

This is a raw, visceral collection. The bones of Melissa Broder are splayed open. It’s dark, twisted, and lyrical. There are moments of quiet self-reflection, but more loud and explosive moments of violence (against others, against the self, against god). Gender, self identity, sex, death, and god are the main themes: all things that are pretty much universal, but she handles them in a way that felt so unique. At times the lines are so personal and exposed you almost want to look away, until you realize you identify so strongly with them it brings tears to your eyes.

This is not an easy reading collection. There are many changes in tense, pronoun, subject… pretty much any linguistic comfort is turned on its head. There’s lots of vomit and drowning and death. The language is at times crude, not for shock value but to highlight the raw grossness of the human experience. The whole book is a struggle, and it reads like one. Nothing is clean or neatly wrapped up. Emotions are not displayed in little glass boxes for the reader to go “oh, yes, I’ve felt that.” They sweep you up like the thematic ocean that runs through many of the poems, and it’s easy to get lost in them. If you like darker, more experimental poetry with a depressing twist I would definitely recommend giving this a go, but if you like the more traditional it probably isn’t for you.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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History, by David O’Hanlon. Finished May 3rd. As I said, I find it very difficult to review poetry. Either it speaks to me or it doesn’t. And for the things that don’t, it’s really hard to say “objectively, here are all the issues with it.” It’s just a matter of taste. With a novel you can point to characterization or plot holes and say “this is why I didn’t like it.” With poetry? Yeah… hard to pinpoint why, exactly, I found this kind of middle-of-the-road.

I think mostly it’s thematic. I like my poetry either dark and surreal or very descriptive. This is a more homey, cozy set of poems. Even when the poems tackle ancient Greek myths or works of literature, it still feels comforting and somehow familiar (though not derivative). And wholly based in real, prosaic life. The language is nice, but it’s more choppy (without being surreal) than I generally prefer. I don’t think this is a bad collection by any means, it’s just not really for me.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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White Sand Vol 1, by Brandon Sanderson. Finished May 4th. This has pretty much everything you’d expect in a Brandon Sanderson work, only it’s accompanied by beautiful illustrations. And I do mean beautiful: the art here is just gorgeous, really evocative and does a great job creating a unique alien world. And while this is a desert planet, it’s not like your usual scifi desert world. Sure, there’s giant beasts under the sand, but in this world the earth is in perpetual day and the sand is a conduit for magic.

Of course there’s a cool magic system: it involves manipulating the sand itself, everything from using it to move around to transmuting it to water. So far we haven’t seen a ton of how it works, so it’s not as complex as, say, Mistborn’s magic, but it’s interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s used in the next volumes. Especially since our main hero, Kenton, is a novice and will be discovering his powers right along with the audience. Speaking of Kenton, I found him the least-interesting of the characters, but that’s almost always true with Sanderson novels. I’d pick pretty much any character in Alloy of Law over Wax and Vin is okay, but I’d hang with Sazed over her any day.

There are of course other Brandon Sanderson traits in full effect. We have some really great characters (Khriss and Aark were my favorites), and this is also one of his more diverse books. All of the people who live on the Darkside of the planet (which I REALLY hope we see in vol 2 or 3) are black. There are tons of interweaving plotlines that have already started to come together in interesting ways. We’ve got lots of magic-driven fights. And while there are no big twists (yet, I expect many later on) there is a particularly brutal plot shift that happens towards the beginning. I hadn’t read the synopsis so it came as a bit of a shock to me!

If you like Sanderson, you’re going to like this. Don’t expect as much character development or complex magic as his written works, because that’s not something you’ll get a ton of in a visual format, but it has all of his flare. Plus any Cosmere fan has to be DYING to find out what the deal with Khriss is.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Your Glass Head Against the Brick Parade of Now Whats, by Sam Pink. Read May 4th. This was my one non-arc read of the week. I’m a huge Sam Pink fan, and Rontel single-handedly cured me of of fear of tarantulas. Not spiders in general, they still terrify me. But tarantulas? No big deal thanks to our lord & savior Sam Pink. And I was obviously on a bit of a poetry kick, so when I found out I Pink had written a collection? Oh hell yeah. Also I had a bunch of Amazon credit saved up from shipping things slow as hell and I felt like burning them.

Anyway, I don’t even know what to say about this. It’s so perfect. If you’ve ever been depressed and not known where your life was going, but gotten to that point where it’s kind of funny? You know, you’re all “wow life can’t really be THIS bad” and your depression is all, “haha, guess what, I’m gonna make it worse!” And you laugh and cry at the same time because how even? That’s Sam Pink in a nutshell. He’s a national treasure.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Whispers in the Mist, by Lisa Alber. Finished May 5th. To start off, this is the second book in a series but you definitely can start with it (or read it as a stand-alone). While there’s some mention of the previous book and we obviously get character and relationship-related spoilers, not an inch of the mystery from Kilmoon is talked about. So the ending (and the case, really) of the first book are kept totally in the dark! Which I appreciate, because I tend to read mystery novels out of order based on the plot summary (and let’s be honest, the cover. It’s spooky woods! of course I need to read it!).

The location is really the star of this novel. It’s set in a sleepy town in Ireland, and there’s a lot of folklore elements to the mystery. People are convinced it’s the Grey Man, a spirit who lives in the mist, who is murdering ‘Lost Boys.’ There’s also a sparrow-as-psychopomp theme running throughout that I found really intriguing.

It’s hard to pinpoint what I didn’t love about this. Not that I disliked it, but I ended up feeling kind of lukewarm. I loved the setting and the atmosphere. The characters (especially Gemma, Alan, and the dog Bijou) were really well rendered. There were many different plot threads that came together beautifully, and I was actually surprised by the very final reveal. But. But. I guessed the bad guy about 50 pages in (I really think it was too obvious, and not a case of having read too many mysteries because it’s not my usual genre), and the plot relies on amnesia in a key witness. A plot trend I’m pretty darn tired of, even if it was trauma-induced here and made a lot of sense. Or, you know, more sense than it does in most thriller/mystery books.

While individual elements here were great and I think there’s a lot of potential in this series, it never quite came together for me. However, I will say that it’s miles better than most mystery series out there. Good characters, quite decent writing, and a really wonderful setting. I’d definitely be willing to pick up the next book.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Reward for Winter, by Di Slaney. Finished May 7th. This is a hard book to pin down. It’s part poetry, part flash fiction. It’s non-fiction with an edge of the fantastical. Lyrical but realistic. A lot of contrasting elements that wouldn’t seem to fit together, but they do–and beautifully.

I tend to like my poetry pretty description-dense. Give me 20 pages of descriptions of mountains and trees and goats. And this slim collection, which is divided into 3 very separate parts, really delivers on that. The first section centers on Di Slaney’s farm, the animals and the chores and the day-to-day reality of it. It’s earthy and homey and beautifully written. I mean, there are goats and cats. What more could I want?

The second section, my favorite, is about the life and times of a single chicken. That may not sound interesting but man, Slaney made it work. Plus it’s passively educational, teaching me all kinds of chicken-related tidbits without feeling like a school lesson. I could read a massive volume that was just her embodying different animals. The life of a cow. The life of a pig. Yeah, bring it on.

The third, and my least-favorite, was about some of the history of her farm & village. It was actually pretty interesting and covers some unusual historical events (a king hiding in a box, witch trials, forbidden love in the middle ages), but for some reason it just didn’t speak to me like the first two sections. I suppose it’s because these poems are much less personal, and telling a story rather than dealing with emotions.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Sunlight Pilgrims, by Jenni Fagan. Finished May 7th. This beautiful little book is, technically, science fiction. It takes place in the very near future and after reading it you might get a little nervous about the state of the world. The main event here is the melting of the polar icecaps, which starts to plunge earth into a new ice age. This, however, is really background noise to the main story, which focuses on a few lost souls in a trailer park in Scotland. They’re dealing with the incredibly cold weather, but also with their own twisted lives.

We have Dylan, a refugee from London who just lost his mother and grandmother in a 6-month period, and also the cinema both women devoted their lives to. There’s Stella, a teenage trans girl who is struggling with her body and classmates, waging a war of acceptance in a small and insular town. There’s Constance, Stella’s mother, who accepts her daughter with open arms but worries endlessly about her future. And she also is in a, shall we say, non-traditional romance with two men that causes the other townies to look down on her a bit.

In a way, this is a family drama. It’s also about the importance of identity. Stella is an amazingly rendered character, and Jenni Fagan captures the day to day struggles of a trans girl so so well. I loved every second of being in her head, even if it was incredibly painful at times. I think this is a great example of dysphoria and a good place for people who want to understand the trans experience to start, because Stella is wonderfully relateable.

The apocalyptic aspect plays out slowly, with days growing steadily colder and colder in the background. We get snippets of news from around the globe, but this book is not heavy on the science aspect at all. Not that that’s a bad thing: not every scifi book needs to be hard and dense. It’s more like Station Eleven, where the event just serves as a backdrop to study human nature.

Until the very end, this was a 5-star read for me. I honestly have no problem with open-ended or ambiguous endings (and I did like how this ended), but there was an important plot thread left totally hanging. I was really frustrated that there was no closure, or even mention, of it at the end. It just kind of faded away and the characters never even got to talk about it, and given how character-driven this is I was kind of desperate to see it play out.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

Reading Challenge Progress

119/175 Books

14/33 Series Books

40/50 TBR Books

17/15 Different Countries

[arcs provided by Netgalley in exchanged for an honest review]

April 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part I

22 Apr

April is my birthday month, which gives me 1) an excuse to buy books I probably shouldn’t and 2) an excuse to read way more than any human should. So April started off with a real bang, and a reading pace that I definitely won’t be able to sustain the whole month! This month I resolved to only read books that I already own (both physical and digital) with no new purchases/downloads, and it’s been going really well so far… though the second half of April will be different for some very good reasons, which I’ll get to when that part goes up.

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Summertime All The Cats Are Bored, by Philippe Georget. Finished April 1st. Let’s be honest, I picked this up because of the absolutely amazing name. I saw it on the shelf at B&N and it was love at first look. It’s a noir, but a very different noir: our main detective is a homebody who doesn’t want any promotions, no one at the station really wants to do a ton of work, people make actual mistakes, there are no red herrings, and the main detective is not some crazy super-genius–the police force actually works together to solve it! It’s definitely a breath of fresh air in the mystery genre. The mystery itself isn’t really the highlight: the characters and the intricacies of the language take the forefront here.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Dream Houses, by Genevieve Valentine. Finished April 1st. I have a thing for space horror set in alien and/or abandoned space ships. It’s a very small subgenre, but man, when it’s good… magic happens. Like in Dream Houses, which is about a woman on board a ship ferrying goods from one star to another. She wakes up very early to find that the crew has been murdered, and the ship is… shall we say… not entirely sane. It’s so gorgeous. Lyrical, haunting, creepy, evocative. I loved every second of this.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Tram 83, by Fiston Mwanza Mujila. Finished April 2nd. Read for the Man Booker International longlist. I’d like to point out that I read, like, 6 books off of it and not a single one made the shortlist. Not even Man Tiger! My luck, guys, is horrible. I know I rated this book pretty lowly but it’s really on me, not the book. It’s just very… masculine? 2 guys in a club talking about women in a super objectifying way (there’s lots of child prostitution here that’s scarily normalized), there’s very little plot. It’s just nothing I like in a book and I wouldn’t have read it if it wasn’t on the longlist, so I feel kind of bad trashing it. Because the writing was very inventive and cool, but I didn’t like any of the content.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

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The Silent History, by Eli Horowitz. Finished April 5th. World War Z meets disability. This is about a silent plague that sweeps the world: children are suddenly born unable to talk or even understand language. It’s told in snippets from many different people (everything from parents to scientists to stray people obsessed with the Silents). I don’t know if everyone will love this, but my brother is autistic so this hit really close to home and felt very important. The Silent children are a clear metaphor for both autism and deafness, and really highlight the messed-up way that our society treats disability. It’s a hard read, but wonderfully told with an absolutely spectacular ending.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Mad Ship, by Robin Hobb. Finished April 7th. I love fantasy, but I don’t tend to read high/traditional fantasy because it’s usually either too Tolkien or too grimdarkedgy for me. These books? Perfect high fantasy. Everything I’d ever want from the genre. A cool world where the worldbuilding is shown, not told. Really fantastic and diverse characters that you get SO attached to. An intricate and complex plot. Cool beasties. Lovely writing. It’s just amazing! I can’t say a single thing about the plot without spoiling the first book (and possibly some of the first trilogy), but if you like fantasy and you haven’t read Hobb…. what are you doing?? Get on that asap.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Wolf Winter, by Cecilia Ekback. Finished April 8th. This is a magical little book. It’s part historical fiction, part mystery, part magical realism. Taking place in Lapland in 1717, it features an isolated community hit by a brutal winter in the midst of a murderer running around. It’s everything I wanted from White Hunger. The writing is so lush, I was lost in the descriptions of the woods and countryside. It felt so claustrophobic, and is one of those books that induce a little bit of anxiety. Plus, witches! I read this shortly after seeing The Witch and it has a similar vibe (goats! witches! isolated houses!) so it was really the perfect time for me to devour this.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, by Helen Oyeyemi. Finished April 9th. I had so many issues with Boy, Snow, Bird, but there was no denying that Oyeyemi’s writing is absolute magic. So I was really excited to pick this up, especially because most of the stories are fairytale inspired. It’s a little bit Angela Carter, but mostly wholly unique. Each story is a glittering little gem of inventiveness. I loved some more than others, as is always the case with story collections, but it’s surprisingly cohesive: there’s lots of character overlap and the theme of keys runs through every one. I think this is a really good place to start with Oyeyemi: bite-sized chunks of her unique and spectacular style.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The North Water, by Ian McGuire. Finished April 10th. This is a super-hyped book, and I’m… kind of confused why? It was okay. It was, mainly, disgusting. Just so many scenes of violence and illness in graphic, graphic detail. I’m not at all squeamish but some of these were really hard to read for me. High ick factor. I was expecting more atmosphere: guys stuck in an arctic environment on a whaling boat! But it’s more about the bad dude on the ship and murder and maiming and rape and people getting teeth embedded in their arms and cutting open stomachs to let out pus. Well written, but a little over the top for me personally.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Eileen, by Otessa Moshfeg. Finished April 10th. This is such an interesting book. It’s a character study first and foremost, with little in the way of plot. Eileen is a very disturbed and strange girl, and we spend the book in her very odd head. The third act is drastically different, but very cleverly so. I think for what this was, it was pretty much perfect. It’s just not the kind of thing I really enjoy? I mean, I love character-driven books and sometimes character studies, but the thriller-combo with that was a little odd for me. Enjoyed it, didn’t love it.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Book Collector, by Alice Thompson. Finished April 10th. This book got a lot of hype around the same time as The Dumb House (which I loved) so of course I wanted to pick it up immediately but it took a while for me to find a copy. And the hype train didn’t lie! This little fable about a woman who marries a mysterious bookseller is just fantastic. Like “The Yellow Wallpaper” x Angela Carter, with more murder. Our narrator gets postpartum psychosis and the real draw of the book is how much we can rely on her narration. Some things are clearly fiction, but how much is the truth? Very creepy and short little read.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Collected Stories, by William Faulkner. Finished April 11th. I started this way back in the beginning of March and read roughly a story a day. I have such mixed feelings about it: there were a few stories I genuinely loved (“Two Soldiers,” “Hair,” “A Courtship,” “Crevasse,” “Golden Land,” “Beyond,” “The Leg,” and “Carcassonne”) but many I found boring or downright disliked. There’s just a LOT of racism and sexism that I found it hard to overlook even if it was just part of the time when he wrote. Also a lot of war/”the glory of the South” stuff that’s just not for me. I am happy that I read it, but very few felt worth the high effort you have to put into untangling these stories.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Islanders, by Christopher Priest. Finished April 12th. This book is compared to Murakami and David Mitchell, but I think it’s more Invisible Cities meets Abarat. It’s a blurry line between magical realism and fantasy and this book walks it finely. It’s about a group of islands (a HUGE group of islands) and the different people and cities that populate it. Each island that we focus on gets its own chapter, some short and some very long, with a few overlapping characters who appear on many of them. There’s many plot elements: a murder mystery, the history of a famous author, etc. But it’s not a plot-driven book. It’s about the evocative descriptions and the magical quality of the islands. If you liked Invisible Cities I think you’ll love this too.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Crow, by Ted Hughes. Finished April 13th. I read this “in preparation” for another book but I love crows so I probably would have read it anyway. Everything in here is just amazing, I was highlighting practically every line. There’s just so much: grief, pain, and sorrow mixed with mythology and folktales about my second-favorite animal, the crow. And what a character Crow is. In turns devious, coy, vicious, tricky, and sweet, Crow is really just wonderful to read about (if a little painful). You can feel Hughes’ grief soaking off the pages. It’s funny: I’m not usually into poetry but when I find something I love I’m pretty passionate about it.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, by Max Porter. Finished April 13th. This is the book that I read Crow for! It’s about a Hughes scholar whose wife dies, and Crow comes to take care of him and his two sons. No joke. It’s… it’s just amazing. Crow is SO accurate to the poems, and his chapters were so perfect and amazing. This book is like evil magical realism: it’s so dark and twisty and grief-laden, a rough read at points but suffused with enough magic to not make it a real downer. Highly, highly recommended–but read Crow first.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Vegetarian, by Han Kang. Finished April 15th. So, I dnf’d this book last month because I found a section of it really triggering–something I don’t usually experience with books. But it made the Man Booker International shortlist and no other book I attempted did, so I felt obliged to pick it up again. And, um, I’m not super happy I did. Once you get over the rape sections, it’s just… I don’t even know. Trying SO hard to be ~bizarre~ and ~weird~ and ~whimsical~ and ~dark.~ I mean, the writing was good so I can’t knock it down too far, but the plot went nowhere I was expecting (in a bad way) and while I did enjoy the second section, the first was horrible for me and the third was weirdly dull.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Look to Windward, by Iain M. Banks. Finished April 17th. After the incredibly disappointing Inversions, I was hesitant to pick up the next Culture book. I shouldn’t have been, because this is by far my favorite of the series (yes, more than Excession!). It shouts out to the first book, which I enjoyed because there’s barely any overlap between the series, and takes us to so many places: a strange caste-based society, one of the Culture’s magical orbitals, and a very, very unique and strange world where a scientist lives on a giant blimp-like sentient beast. It tackles some really serious questions about war and humanity while giving us a really engaging plotline. It also has probably my favorite Culture character: Kabe, the philosophical alien who plots along through the book and gives us some truly hilarious scenes. This was everything I want in science fiction.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Ship of Destiny, by Robin Hobb. Finished April 20th. The last Liveship Traders book stabbed me right in the heart. I laughed, I cried, I cried some more and cursed Hobb for making me feel such feelings. Most of all, I was shocked about how neatly all the disparate threads were drawn together. Her craftsmanship is masterful: like Peter Hamilton, there is a LOT going on in this series and you think “hmm, there’s no way this will all be nice and neat at the end.” But it is! All the threads, from the strange serpent chapters to Malta’s unexpected transformation (a character I started out loathing and ended up loving) come together brilliantly. But this book is a rough read: harder even than some of the most brutal moments of Farseer. My heart may never recover.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Progress

97/175 Books

14/33 Series Books

34/50 TBR Books

17/15 Different Countries

March 2016 Reading Wrapup

7 Apr

Another month, another late wrapup! It’s a trend, I tell you. But hey, some people did their February wrapups just a few days ago, so I don’t feel that bad about it. Actually I do, so let’s just pretend this is totally on time!

March was an amazing reading month for me, my best ever. However, until I actually looked at my stats at the end of the month I felt like it was going rather slowly. Odd, right? It’s probably because my nightime reading (which is all on Kindle) was kind of slow due to some chunkers. But my daytime reading, which is physical books (and a new addition to my reading routine) more than made up for that. Since this is a long one hit the jump to get started!

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